Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Higgins: unite to combat extremists

French president Francois Hollande shakes hands with President Michael Higgins at the Elysee Palace in Paris (AP)

President Michael D Higgins has called on moderates in the Islamic and western worlds to work together to confront extremism.

In a wide-ranging address to United Nations peace organisation Unesco, the President warned that ethical and comprehensive debate was the only way to ensure a shared, peaceful future.

"We must encourage moderate scholars of Islam and enlightened post-Imperial Western rationalists who draw water from the same well to work together," Mr Higgins said.

"It is past time that they supported each other, confronted the politics of fear and exclusion, being visited on populations by extremists and to work together to achieve the sustainable, peaceful planet we need."

President Higgins received a standing ovation following his speech at the Unesco headquarters in Paris, when he became the first Irish president to address the organisation.

He said that opening talks between the Islamic and western worlds should be seen as "one of the most urgent intellectual issues of our time".

The former university lecturer and poet also warned that the world could not afford to allow extremism to imperil peace and co-existence between different countries, cultures and belief systems.

Mr Higgins said unrest in Mali was an example of how people have suffered at the hands of extremists targeting their culture as "a weapon of war".

"The attack on the culture of Mali is of course primarily an attack on the people of Mali and of the region," Mr Higgins said. "However, an attack on the culture of one of our members is also an attack on the culture of us all, who share the culture humanity."

Malian troops are fighting alongside French forces in a bid to take back control of northern parts of the West African country, after Islamist extremists seized power last year.

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